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Preview: The Rehearsal Studio

The Rehearsal Studio

A place to exercise ideas before writing about them with greater discipline.

Updated: 2018-03-17T16:42:07.160-07:00


San Francisco Conservatory of Music: April and May 2018


As we near the end of the academic year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), it will make sense to group the final two months into a single article, particularly since there is only one event to announce for the month of May. Unless otherwise specified, all events will be free of charge; and reservations will not be required. The SFCM building is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni Station. Readers are encouraged to consult the Performance Calendar Web page at the SFCM Web site for the most up-to-date information about any of these offerings. Here is a chronological listing of events likely to be of interest to serious and attentive listeners:Monday, April 2, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: The first Faculty Artist Series concert of the month will be presented by David Conte, Chair of the Composition Department. Conte will be joined by SFCM faculty, alumni, and staff in a survey of his recent work. The program will feature the world premiere of his latest song cycle, Song for the Seasons. There will also be three Bay Area premieres, the song cycle for baritone and piano Everyone Sang, and two pieces of chamber music, an elegy for violin and piano and a sonata for clarinet and piano. The program will also include the aria sung by Kate from the opera East of Eden and the collection of settings of three of the poems of Christina Rossetti.Friday, April 6, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 8, 2 p.m., Concert Hall: The full-length opera for the spring semester will be Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied. First performed about a decade ago, the libretto tells the story of Jim Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in the history of our country. Tickets will be required for this performance, $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors, students, and SFCM members. Tickets may be purchased online through a Click4Tix event page set up to take orders for both of the performances.Monday, April 9, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: The final Centennial event of the season will present compositions by past and present faculty members of the Composition Department: Elinor Armer, David Garner, David Conte, and Aaron Jay Kernis.Sunday, April 15, 2 p.m., Concert Hall: The Historical Performance Department will present the winners of this season’s Baroque Ensemble Concerto Competition. Those winners will be violinists Alyssa Wright and Shelby Yamin, playing concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Giuseppe Tartini, respectively, guitarist Matthew Xie playing a Vivaldi lute concerto, and cellists Chiyuan Ma and Stephanie Li, joining forces in a Vivaldi concerto for two cellos. All performances will be on historical instruments.Saturday, April 21, 7:30 p.m., Concert Hall: Michael Mohammed, Director of the Musical Theatre Workshop, will present a revue entitled Enchanted Evening. Details will be announced at a later date. The Music Director for this production will be Michael Horsley.Sunday, April 22, 4 p.m., Recital Hall: The final faculty performance of the academic year will be a program consisting entirely of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach played on historical instruments. The performers will include the two co-Directors of the Historical Performance department, Elisabeth Reed on cello and Corey Jamason on harpsichord. They will be joined by Elizabeth Blumenstock on violin. Again, all performances will be on historical instruments.Sunday, April 29, 2 p.m., Concert Hall: Edwin Outwater will be guest conductor for the final concert of the academic year to be given by the Conservatory Orchestra. The program will present two of Richard Strauss’ tone poems, “Don Juan” and “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.” It will conclude with Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken I/98 symphony in B-flat major. Tickets will be required for this performance, $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors, students, and SFCM members. Tickets may be purchased online through a Click4Tix event page.Friday, May 4, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 6, 2 p.m., Concert Hall: Heather Mathews will direct two chamber ope[...]

Bill Frisell’s First Solo Album in 18 Years


courtesy of Sony Music

Yesterday Sony Music released Music IS, a solo album by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. The number of combos in which Frisell has performed and/or led comes close to innumerable; but he has not made a solo album since Ghost Town, which was released by Nonesuch eighteen years ago. The title of the new album has a somewhat amusing backstory. Frisell has made a personal mantra out of the sentence “Music is good,” which he picked up from banjo player Danny Barnes. As he has put it in his own words:
Everything I need to know is that phrase, “Music is Good.” I almost called the album that, but then I thought that it might be too literal. It’s good to leave it open.
Ironically, the titles of the tracks on this new album, many of which have been previously recorded, are about as literal as one can get. Some, such as “Pretty Stars,” could not be more visual. Others, like “The Pioneers,” seem to have been conceived as evocations of familiar genres. Then there are memory pieces that identify either past colleagues (“Ron Carter”) or venues (“Kentucky Derby”).

Frisell seems to have no trouble inventing new melodies. He seems to do it almost every morning, the way many of us would take that time to read the newspaper (or, in this more “contemporary” world, scan our news feeds). All of his tunes get documented on single pages of staff paper. Again, Frisell has his own thoughts about the process:
I don’t know where the melodies come from. I try not to judge anything and just let them be.
After deciding to make a solo recording, Frisell booked himself to play for a week at The Stone in New York. He used those sessions to review all those pieces of staff paper that he had accumulated, finding his own distinctive paths from notation to performance. This prepared him to take his thoughts about performance into a recording studio. What came out of that studio is a collection of sixteen tracks, only a few of which are longer than five minutes in duration. Some are “straight” solos, some involve different forms of electronic processing, and a few are products of mixing multiple tracks.

Taken only on the surface, this album could easily be dismissed as “easy listening” or that blissed-out “new age” style that became associated with Windham Hill Records (whose catalog is now distributed through Sony Music Entertainment). However, for those willing to listen more closely, it should not take long to find the depth of these still waters, a depth that takes in the full richness of issues that arise when one commits to making music. Frisell may have approached Music IS as a sort of personal diary, but it is a diary offering much to learn to anyone willing to commit to giving it a serious reading.

Simone Porter’s Engaging Janáček at SFP


Violinist Simone Porter (courtesy of San Francisco Performances)Last night in the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco Performances (SFP) concluded its 2017–2018 Young Masters Series with a violin recital by Simone Porter. Porter is currently studying with Robert Lipsett at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, but last season she performed as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel at the age of nineteen. Her accompanist last night was pianist Hsin-I Huang, and both of them were making their respective San Francisco debuts.Like many emerging recitalists, Porter prepared a program that went for breadth, with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at one end at Esa-Pekka Salonen at the other. There was an impressive diversity of compositional structure in her selections; but each half of the program began with a multi-movement duo sonata. Of these two the strongest impressions were left by Leoš Janáček’s only violin sonata, a piece with a somewhat rocky history.It was originally composed in 1914, but Janáček could not find a violinist interested in performing it. In 1915 he published the second (Ballada) movement separately and set about to revise the sonata as a whole. The completed revision was first performed in 1922. As a point of reference for Janáček’s activities as a composer, his best known works between 1914 and 1922 would probably be his opera Káťa Kabanová (first performed in 1921) and his symphonic rhapsody in three movements, “Taras Bulba” (completed in 1918).I have SFP to thank for introducing me to Janáček’s violin sonata, since I first heard it in January of 2009 at an SFP recital given by violinist Christian Tetzlaff accompanied by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. Sadly, last night was only my second performance encounter, although I wrote about a recording for when harmonia mundi reissued an album of violinist Isabelle Faust accompanied by pianist Ewa Kupiec. Like the composer’s two string quartets, this sonata shows the composer’s skill at bringing intense dramatic qualities to seemingly abstract compositional forms. In the case of the sonata, the listener is so drawn into Janáček’s rhetorical skills that (s)he barely notices the solid foundation of traditional sonata movement forms. Last night’s performance brought back fond memories of those rhetorical skills, owing as much to the intricate interplay between Porter and Huang as to Porter’s own solo work.Would that the same could have been said of their approach to the opening selection, Mozart’s K. 376 sonata in F major. To her credit Huang summoned just the right lightness of touch to capture the high spirits of the music without overplaying the many show-off gestures that Mozart required from the keyboard. Unfortunately, Porter approached her part with the same uncompromising intensity that listeners would subsequently encounter in her Janáček performance. Where Mozart was concerned, however, this came across as challenging Huang’s keyboard work, rather than complementing it.Indeed, forcefulness came across as the strong suit in Porter’s hand of rhetorical skills. This certainly saw her through with a bold approach to Salonen’s “Lachen Verlernt” (laughter unlearned). However, her performance did not necessarily give a credible account of the work’s structural foundation (a chaconne) or the source of its rhetorical stance (Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, the title being taken from a line of text in the libretto).Once again, I have SFP to thank for my listening experience with this piece, since I first heard it performed by Jennifer Koh in Herbst Theatre in March of 2010. On that occasion it was performed with a projected video created by Tal Rosner, which tended to distract more than enhance. On the other hand Koh had programmed “Lachen Verlernt” to follow a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 solo partita in D minor, which concludes with a chaconn[...]

Anne Rainwater Piano Recital Tomorrow


Pianist Anne Rainwater (photograph by Jamie Jung, from Rainwater’s Web site)

This is a last-minute announcement; but it is definitely worth making. Oakland-based pianist Anne Rainwater will be presenting the March installment in the Seventh Avenue Performances recital series. I remember when this series was launched; and I am more than a little disappointed that it fell off of my radar, particular since it is now in its fifteenth season. I have been most aware of Rainwater’s work through her many appearances at the Center for New Music, including her membership in the New Keys ensemble of four pianists, whose other members are Kate Campbell, Anthony Porter, and Regina Schaffer.

Tomorrow she will be presenting a program conceived to probe the very nature of listening to music. She is particularly interested in looking beyond the music itself (what Immanuel Kant called the “thing-in-itself”) to address the impact of context, suggesting that perception always involves more than just the individual observer and the observed object. Where music is concerned, context has both historical and immediate aspects. On the historical side listening is impacted by knowledge of when a piece was composed and possibly the circumstances under which composition took place. However, in the “immediate present” context may be involved how listening to one composition will impact how we listen to the next piece on the program.

To address these issues, Rainwater will explore how the music of two contemporary composers, Mei-Fan Lin and Danny Clay, can influence how we listen to the twentieth-century composers Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Arnold Schoenberg and vice versa. Similarly, because all three of those past composers were living at the same time at the beginning of the twentieth century, Rainwater can address the questions of how much influence they had on each other and in what ways. As of this writing, the specific compositions on the program have not yet been announced; but it is clear that Rainwater has put some imaginative thought into preparing a concert program that will also serve as a “dataset.”

This recital will begin tomorrow evening, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. The Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church is located at 1329 Seventh Avenue, about half a block south of the stop for the Muni N trolley line. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for students and seniors and $5 for children aged twelve and under. Tickets are available in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page.

MTT Leads Bernstein’s Copland 3rd with SFS


2015 was a pivotal year for those with a serious interest in listening to the music of Aaron Copland. That was the year in which Leonard Slatkin made the decision to use the original version in his performance of Aaron Copland’s third symphony in one of his subscription series concerts with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Those performances were recorded and eventually surfaced in June of last year as the third release in Slatkin’s project with Naxos to record Copland’s symphonic music.In his program notes for this week’s performance in Davies Symphony Hall of the Copland third by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) led by Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), James M. Keller explained why that original version was changed. The symphony’s champion was Serge Koussevitzky. Copland wrote it on a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and dedicated it to the memory of Natalie Koussevitzky. Serge conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the first performance on October 18, 1946. It was well received and other conductors, including George Szell, rallied to promote it.Keller continued the story as follows:Koussevitzky’s protégé-on-the-rise, Leonard Bernstein, also championed the work early on, although Copland’s feathers were considerably ruffled when Bernstein decided to cut eight measures from the finale [between rehearsal numbers 129 and 130 in the score published by Boosey & Hawkes] without bothering to discuss the matter with the composer first. Copland eventually came to Bernstein’s point of view on the cut—which, in the end, is hardly an earth-shattering issue.In his notes for the booklet accompanying the Naxos recording, Slatkin claimed, “Only recently has the original version been made available to musicians.” I am not quite sure what constituted availability in Slatkin’s sense of the word. Those eight measures are in my Hawkes Pocket Scores copy, which is basically a lithograph of the original 1947 printing. I bought it in Philadelphia before I had graduated high school. (I know this because I wrote in my name and address, and the address was written before the ZIP Code system was introduced.) At the time I had the Everest recording of Copland himself conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of this symphony, and it did not take me long to realize that something was missing!It is hard to argue with Keller’s claim that eight measures out of a 155-page score do not make for “an earth-shattering issue.” Nevertheless, when those eight measures surfaced on Slatkin’s recording, they hit me with a real jolt. In that brief segment Copland managed to summarize his thematic lexicon with multi-voice polyphony at its finest, crafted with enough discipline to bring a smile to the face of his strictest teacher, Nadia Boulanger (assuming she had a chance to read the score, if not listen to the music itself). Perhaps Bernstein felt that the shift in rhetoric at that point was too abrupt and would interrupt the “heroic” flow of the rest of the coda; but, for my own part as some readers may know, I greeted the release of Slatkin’s Naxos recording with great enthusiasm.As a result, I was a bit disappointed last night to find that MTT chose to side with Bernstein rather than Copland in this matter. Sadly this was one of several disappointments. The more crucial issue had to do with concern for that landscape of climaxes based on the premise that there should be one peak rising above all the others. MTT approached Copland’s first use of fortissimo (on page 4 of that Boosey & Hawkes score) as if it were the top of Mount Everest. This set the tone for the unfolding of all four of the symphony’s movements, pulling out all the same stops each time Copland was building up his dynamic level. As a result, whether or not that cut was taken, it was difficult not to approach the final measures of the symphony with little more than a sense of fatigue. What, [...]

Red Poppy Art House: April, 2018


Once again, this site will take an “incremental” approach to tracking those events to be offered at the Red Poppy Art House during the month of April. The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street on the southwest corner of 23rd Street. Unless stated otherwise, tickets will be available in advance online through Eventbrite. As a result, the dates provided below will be hyperlinked to the Eventbrite event pages for purchasing tickets.Given the demand for these concerts, it is likely that only a limited number of tickets will be available at the door. Remember, the Poppy is a small space. Even those who have purchased their tickets in advance should probably make it a point to be there when the doors open one half-hour before the performance is scheduled to begin. Here are the specifics for those events that have been posted thus far:Sunday, April 1, 7 p.m.: Daniel Riera will present a program entitled A Tribute To Guinga. Guinga is the performing name of the Brazilian guitarist and composer Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar. As a child he was called “Gringo” due to his pale skin; and “Guinga” was his idiomatic pronunciation of that noun. Riera spent six years at Guinga’s California Brazil Camp and developed an informed love of both the elegant melodies and their lush harmonies. At this concert those songs will be arranged for a chamber ensemble of winds, strings, and percussion led by Riera, whose primary instrument is the flute. The other players have not yet been announced. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20.Thursday, April 5, 7:30 p.m.: Ole, Opa! is a group that was formed in 2016 as a collaboration of flamenco dancer Bianca Rodriguez and vocalist Jenny Luna. The idea was that Rodriguez would apply her flamenco technique to Luna’s repertoire, which consisted primarily of songs of Balkan and Turkish origins. The group is now a quartet with contributions from Gopal Slavonic on guitar and Joey Friedman on saxophone. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25.[added 3/17, 4:30 p.m.:Friday, April 6, 7 p.m.: Het Hat Club returns to the Red Poppy to perform their own interpretations of jazz classics from the French Romani community, whose best-known member is probablu Django Reinhardt. This is a group whose members are Valentin Desmarais on saxophone, Antonio D. Erchie, Jr. and Isaac Misri on guitar, and Bito Janos on accordion. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20.]Sunday, April 8, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a duo performance by French bassist François Moutin and New York vocalist Kavita Shah. They will present original music conceived specifically for this combination of resources, as well as their own distinctive arrangements of standards. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20.[added 3/17, 4:45 p.m.:Friday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.: The jazz trio led by Ramana Vieira on piano with Brad Bivens on guitar and Leslie Thorne on bass specializes in the Portuguese fado style. However, they also play a variety of American standards, as well as original compositions. Vieira often adds vocalization to her keyboard work. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25.Saturday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist and accordionist Rob Reich will make his next visit to the Poppy. He will be joined by Ben Goldberg on clarinets of different sizes and Scott Amendola on drums. The bass player for his quartet has not yet been announced. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20.Sunday, April 22, 2 p.m.: This will be the next installment of the free Monthly Community Rumba, with music provided by Rumberos de Radio Habana. While this is a free event, donations are warmly accepted. All donated money goes to the performing musicians, and a recommended amount is between $5 and $10.] [...]

More of the Richter Legacy from Praga


from Amazon.comEfforts to maintain a thorough “digital documentation” of the performances by pianist Sviatoslav Richter will continue this Friday when Praga Digitals will release a two-CD album of that pianist’s performances of music by Franz Schubert. The collection consists primarily of five sonatas that cover the period between August of 1817 and September of 1828, that last being the single month during which Schubert composed his last three sonatas, all as wildly innovative as they were monumental in temporal scale. Each of these five sonatas was performed at a different place on a different date. Specifics are as follows:D. 575 in B major, New York (Carnegie Hall), April 15, 1965D. 625 in F minor, Munich (Herkulessaal), July 23, 1978D. 784 in A minor, Tokyo, February 6, 1979D. 894 in G major, Moscow, May 5, 1978D. 958 in C minor, Salzburg, August 1972In addition, there is a recording of the C minor Allegretto movement (D. 915) made at the Teatro Comunale in Florence on October 23, 1962. As usual, is currently processing pre-orders for this release.Those who followed my writing last year know that a good deal of my attention went into recordings of Richter released by a generous number of different sources. They would be justified in asking if, after all that effort, I had had enough, particularly given the amount of time I had put into the ten-CD album released by Profil that consisted entirely of performances of Schubert. Obviously, I have not had enough; and, where Schubert is concerned, all of the performances on this new Praga release are later than those in the Profil collection. Furthermore, only two of the works on this new album could be found in the Profil collection, the D. 784 and D. 958 sonatas. In other words, no matter how you choose to cut it, this new recording consists entirely of performances I had not yet encountered.Mind you, whenever I am confronted with moderate or large number of selections, it does not take me long to home in on favorites. In this particular case I would have to say that the top of my list is firmly occupied by D. 894. This is because this was my first serious acquaintance with one of Schubert’s piano sonatas, established through a 1966 RCA Victor recording of Peter Serkin, which seems to be available on Amazon only through third-party vendors and only in vinyl form. By 1966 I had developed an enthusiastic taste for the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, but I was not prepared for a piano sonata whose first movement required about half an hour to state and develop its thematic material!By the time I was living in Santa Barbara in the early Eighties, I had a piano teacher who not only encouraged me to take on this sonata but also challenged me memorize the exposition portion of that opening movement. As a result I now tend to go after any available opportunity to listen to how any pianist approaches this sonata. It has been quite a wild ride, particularly since I began to document my listening experiences back in 2009; but, for all of those opportunities that have presented themselves to me, I have yet to tire of encountering both performances and recordings of D. 894.On the other hand D. 625 will probably strike most listeners are the greatest curiosity in this new collection. This sonata is listed as incomplete in Otto Erich Deutch’s catalog; and, as might be expected, there is a Wikipedia page that provides a reasonably good account of what is there and what is missing. Most of the attention there is given to the opening Allegro movement, which cites a couple of recent efforts to create a completed version. However, when András Schiff recorded the sonata, he decided to play only what Schubert wrote, which makes for a noticeably abrupt break in the flow of the music. Richter did the same at his Munich recital; and, for all I know, Schiff was following Richter’s lead.Personally, while I cannot ge[...]

Brownlee to Bring West Coast Premiere to SFP


Tenor Lawrence Brownlee (courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

This month will conclude with the third of the four concerts in the 2017–2018 Vocal Series being presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP). The vocalist will be tenor Lawrence Brownlee, whom I first came to know in the fall of 2016 when his second album with Delos, Allegro io son (happy am I), was released. The timing could not have been better, because, less than a month after encountering this recording, I was enjoying the second of the six performances he gave to make his debut with the San Francisco Opera in Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Now Brownlee is scheduled to give his SFP debut, and the occasion will be all the more special because it will feature a West Coast premiere. The idea for the program originated in 2016 when Carnegie Hall asked Brownlee to plan a recital there. In an interview Brownlee told The New York Times that he knew he wanted to include Robert Schumann’s Opus 48 Dichterliebe (a poet’s love) song cycle. He then decided that the Schumann cycle should be complemented by a more contemporary cycle “detailing our own perspective of what it is to be a black man in America” (Brownlee’s words).

This objective led to a collaborative project with composer Tyshawn Sorey and poet Terrance Hayes. The result was a program that would couple Schumann’s Opus 48 in the first half with Cycles of My Being, what emerged from Sorey’s partnership with Hayes, in the second. The world premiere was given this past February 20 at a recital presented by Opera Philadelphia, and Brownlee is now taking his program on a more extensive tour. As a result, we in San Francisco will get to hear Sorey’s new work before it arrives in Carnegie Hall on April 24. Brownlee’s accompanist for these performances is pianist Myra Huang, who will also be making her first SFP appearance.

This recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 31. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Tickets prices are $65 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $55 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $40 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Albany Consort to Celebrate Bach’s Birthday


Members of the Albany Consort in performance (courtesy of the Albany Consort)

My first encounter with Jonathan Salzedo’s Albany Consort took place on March 24, 2009, when they presented a Noontime Concerts recital celebrating the 324th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was born at a time when different parts of Europe were using different calendars, the older Julian version and the newer (as of 1582) Gregorian. For this reason Bach’s Wikipedia page gives his birthday according to both calendar systems. As a result, those wishing to celebrate the occasion can usually get away with doing so sometime late in March.

Honoring that time frame, the Albany Consort will be returning to Noontime Concerts to celebrate Bach’s 333rd birthday. For this occasion Salzedo will be presenting Bach’s BWV 988 set of 30 (“Goldberg”) variations on an aria theme. Bach composed this for keyboard, and several of the variations indicate that two separate manuals are required. However, Dimitry Sitkovetsky prepared an arrangement for string ensemble, which Salzedo’s daughter, violinist Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo, performed during her studies at Juilliard School. Those who have been around here for a while would not have had to travel to New York to learn about this arrangement. The New Century Chamber Orchestra performed it in November of 2010, and the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra took their turn with it early in 2012.

However, Salzedo describes himself as “an incurable experimenter.” Thus, while he was willing to take Sitkovetsky’s arrangement as a point of departure, he tinkered with the score enough to put his own personal stamp on it. Indeed, he even scored one of the variations as a “family affair,” in which his wife, Marion Rubinstein playing organ, will join both him (on harpsichord) and Laura. The other members of the ensemble that will play at Noontime Concerts will be violinists Rachel Hurwitz, David Wilson, Aaron Westman, and Maxine Nemerovski, violist Katherine Hagen, cellist Joyce Park, and Roy Whelden on violone.

This performance will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20. As always, these concerts will take place at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Chinatown. The cathedral is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs.

An Emerging Composer Deserving Attention


Front cover of the book behind the title of last night’s concert (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)Last night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (LCCE) continued its 25th anniversary season with a program entitled Sonnets to Orpheus. However, it was the one composition on the program that lacked an “Orpheus connection” that stole the show. That was the winner of LCCE’s 2017 Composition Contest, a ten-minute work for solo piano by Chiayu Hsu entitled “Rhapsody Toccata.” This piece was played by Katy Luo, currently based in Honolulu but with past connections to LCCE.“Rhapsody Toccata” was true to its name. From the very opening gestures, the listener could sense a ghostly presence of Franz Liszt as the first round of phrases disclosed themselves. However, because the strings at both extremes of the piano had been prepared, the emerging sonorities established that the composer was doing far more than trying to channel Liszt. Indeed, the very sense of “rhapsody” was far more expansive, perhaps with a nod or two to Johannes Brahms and a few rather more obvious evocations of George Gershwin.Where the rest of the title was concerned, Luo played Hsu’s score with a sense of spontaneity, which made it clear that she had established a firm command of all the marks on paper. If composers like Liszt and Gershwin were lurking behind the “rhapsody” noun, the spirit of toccata could be traced all the way back to keyboard music that displayed Johann Sebastian Bach at his most impetuous. The result was a wild ride through keyboard legacies, all delivered with rapid-fire focus by Luo’s capacity for technical command. This is music that definitely merits more exposure, and LCCE has done the music world a serious solid in acknowledging the capacity of an emerging composer deserving of further attention.The title of the program was that of a cycle of 55 sonnets written in German by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The second half of the program was devoted entirely to a song cycle by Eric Moe, which set six of those sonnets. This was complemented by the first half, which presented reflections on the Orpheus myth realized in music by Claudio Monteverdi, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Aida Shirazi, and Luiz Bonfá. All of these pieces featured solo flute work by Stacey Pelinka with string support provided by violinists Anna Presler and Ilana Thomas, violist Phyllis Kamrin, and cellist Tanya Tomkins.The Monteverdi and Gluck selections were excerpts from their respective operatic settings of the Orpheus myth. Of these two, the Gluck performance came closest to the original instrumentation, although the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” was originally written for two flutes. However, the accompaniment was strictly by strings; and one-to-a-part playing offered more intimacy than would be encountered with a larger ensemble. Pelinka’s command of the solo line was confident; and the group, as a whole, offered far more than adequate justice to Gluck’s legacy.Monteverdi did not fare quite as well. In this case the instruments were not quite the right fit to the composer’s own approach to instrumentation, and doling vocal lines out to instruments usually does favors to neither the notes intended for voice or the instruments selected to play them. The title of Shirazi’s piece, which was being given its world premiere, was “Vestiges;” and it was clear from her remarks to the audience that these were reflections of memories of both of these Orpheus operas in a contemporary setting.How well Shirazi succeeded in her goal cannot be assessed on the basis of a single listening experience. It was not easy to recognize the sources behind the vestiges, so to speak; but that is not necessarily to the detriment of the composition.[...]

The Bleeding Edge: 3/12/2018


Things seem to be getting back up to speed where adventurous music is concerned. This week the number of new events is the same as those that have already been reported. In that latter category we have the follows:Center for New Music: ensemble proton bern on March 15 and Free as AIR on March 16March 16: the next Jazz in the Neighborhood event at the Community Music CenterMarch 18: Karl Evangelista at the Red Poppy Art HouseSpecifics for previously unannounced events are as follows:Wednesday, March 14, 8 p.m., The Bindery: This month’s installment of the monthly Experimental Music Night series will follow the usual four-set format. Those sets will offer one trio, one duo, and two solos. Ctrl-Z is the trio of Ryan Page, Nick Wang, and Daniel Steffey performing scored music for live electronics. OMMO is the duo of Julie Moon and Adria Otte, improvising with both analog and digital electronics and voice. Madalyn Merkey will give a solo performance with electronic circuitry of her own design. Finally, Minor Fluctuation is a solo project by multi-instrumentalist Rob Williams.The Bindery is located in Haight-Ashbury at 1727 Haight Street. Doors will open at 7:45 p.m. Admission will be $5.Thursday, March 15, 8 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG):  This week’s LSG Creative Music Series concert will follow the usual two-set format. The first set will be taken by Banyan Tree, an improvisation duet formed in Los Angeles in 2017. The performers are Maneesh Raj Madahar and Jamie Green on Fender Rhodes and amplified violin, respectively. They will be followed by a solo improvisation set taken by percussionist Daniel Steffey. LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $8 and $15.Friday, March 16, 8 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: Old First Concerts (O1C) will present a chamber music recital featuring West Coast premiere performances of works by Jeremy Crosmer and Bosba Panh. The performance will be by Holes in the Floor, a quartet of cellists Jonathan Butler, Eunghee Cho, Yejin Hong, and Joy Yanai, who began playing as a group at the New England Conservatory of Music. Panh’s composition has not yet been given a title, while Crosmer’s is his second suite scored for a quartet of cellos. The group will also play similarly scored music by Alexandre Tansman, as well as an arrangement by Laszlo Varga of the chaconne movement that concludes Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 D minor partita, originally composed for solo violin.The Old First Presbyterian Church is located at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue. If purchased in advance online from an O1C event page, general admission will be $23 with a discounted rate of $18 for seniors aged 65 or older. Tickets for full-time students showing valid identification will be $5; and children aged twelve and under will be admitted for free. There is also a discount available for those parking at the Old First Parking Garage at 1725 Sacramento Street, just up the street from the church.Sunday, March 18, 7:30 p.m., Musicians Union Hall: This will be the next concert in the Static Illusion Methodical Madness (SIMM) Series offered by Outsound Presents. The evening will consist of the usual format of two sets of inventive composition work. The first set will present vocalist Lorin Benedict and guitarist Eric Vogler, who perform as the duo Bleeding Vector. In the second set saxophonist Rent Romus will join percussionist Nava Dunkelman and Jakob Pek, who divides his time between guitar and percussion. The Musicians Union Hall is located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission Street. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $10 and $20.[...]

Edgar Meyer’s Overture Steals the Show


Joshua Bell (courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)Last night the Great Performers Series, presented by the San Francisco Symphony, continued with a visit to Davies Symphony Hall by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (ASMF). This English chamber orchestra, which was founded in 1959, was conducted by its current Music Director, violinist Joshua Bell. While the original group was a string ensemble (playing without a conductor), last night’s visiting ensemble included a chamber-scale complement of winds and brass, as well as a timpanist.Bell prepared a traditional overture-concerto-symphony program for last night’s concert. However, the overture was anything but traditional. It was conceived by composer Edgar Meyer as a “compact” violin concerto written on a commission for Bell and the ASMF ensemble, which came at a time when the Bravo! Vail music festival requested an overture. The two projects were folded into one, which was an overture for violin and orchestra, first performed in Vail in June of 2017.Meyer may be the most eclectic bass player in the business these days, working regularly with not only Bell but also the likes of Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, and even James Taylor. The overture he composed was high-spirited unto an extreme, coming about as close as one could get to manic without going over the edge. Perhaps he welcomed the opportunity to write music for higher-pitched strings, whose physical properties would allow rapid playing less likely to be muddied than when played at much lower pitches. In the midst of this wild ride, the violin solo emerges as an intensely demanding perpetuum mobile on steroids. Bell responded to the challenges Meyer prepared like a duck takes to water.As might be expected, the execution of that solo part demanded intense concentration, which Bell definitely knew how to deliver. That, however, was the rub. How could someone so focused on so many challenging passages have any cognitive cycles remaining to lead the ensemble?Most likely the answer was that he couldn’t. Meyer had written a score in which all of the players, with guidance from their respective section leaders, could get by through playing against a shared metronome. The demands of the tempo allowed little room for any more nuanced approaches to performance, such as attentive phrasing. In other words, the piece was rather like a roller coaster, a thoroughly exhilarating wild ride that turned out not to go anywhere. For what it was, it was engagingly enjoyable; but it was also a flourish of style over substance.However, if Bell could get away with little more than style in his overture, this luxury was not afforded by either the concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (K. 218 in D major) or the symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven (the “Pastoral” Opus 68 in F major). As a result, like Leo Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each of these pieces was disappointing in its own way. Where the concerto was concerned, Bell never seemed to get beyond a command of the technical and expressive challenges posed for the soloist, meaning that his attention to the ensemble tended to be sketchy at best. As a result, there seemed to be little regard for Mozart’s consummate gift for establishing a witty give-and-take between soloist and ensemble in just about any concerto he every wrote. There was no sense that the music itself provided an intimate bond, a sense that San Francisco audiences were able to enjoy particularly well when Benjamin Beilman visited the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO) as both Guest Concertmaster and soloist this past November. All of the notes may have been present, but any sense of Mozart himself was sorely missed.For the Beethoven selection Bell chose to lead from the Concertmaster’s chair. My initial thoug[...]

Ars Minerva to Visit Italian Cultural Institute


courtesy of the Italian Cultural Institute

The next music event to be hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano de Cultura, IIC) will involve a visit from Ars Minerva. Those who have been following this site may recall that this year’s concert season began with a full-length fully-staged production by Ars Minerva of the seventeenth-century opera La Circe, composed by Pietro Andrea Ziani with a libretto by Cristoforo Ivanovich. Based in San Francisco and created by Artistic Director and mezzo Céline Ricci, Ars Minerva has been pursuing its mission of bringing forgotten music back to life since its formation in 2013.

At the end of this month, Ricci will come to IIC to present her latest project, Women of the Mediterranean Baroque Arias. Ricci has prepared a selection of arias by Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli, Carlo Pallavicino, George Frideric Handel, Pietro Andrea Zani, and Giovanni Porta to survey the different ways in which those composers developed female characters through the arias they composed. She will be joined by two other vocalists, soprano Aurélie Veruni and mezzo Kindra Scharich (both of whom had been in the cast of La Circe). Accompaniment will be provided by Derek Tam at the harpsichord.

This concert will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, and will probably last for about two hours. IIC is located in the Civic Center at 601 Van Ness Avenue, Suite F. Admission is free, but registration is required to assure having a place. IIC has created a registration page specific for this event. Anyone who registers may also add the names of a maximum of two additional guests. Those wishing further information may call IIC at 415-788-7142.

Two Guitarists Survey Spanish Repertoire


Four months ago this site reported on a harmonia mundi album entitled Encuentro, the Spanish noun for “encounter.” That title referred to encounters between Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca based on their shared interests in the folk origins of Spanish song. It also referred to the encounter of a flamenco singer, Estrella Morente, with a classically-trained pianist, Javier Perianes, to account for music arising from the encounters of Falla and Lorca.Last night Herbst Theatre provided the venue for a similar encounter of performers, whose programming was inspired, at least in part, by that relationship between Falla and Lorca. This was the latest joint presentation by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts and the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Guitar Series. In this case the encounter was between two master guitarists, both of whom have previously performed for SFP. American Eliot Fisk was appearing for the fourth time since his debut in 1997; and Spanish guitarist Ángel Romero was making his second appearance, having made his solo debut in 2008. He is also known for his many performances with The Romeros, joining his brothers Celin and Pepe in a quartet created and led by their father Celedonio.Fisk and Romero collaborated on preparing two-guitar arrangements of the two major compositions on the Encuentro album. The Falla offering consisted of six of the songs collected in Siete canciones populares españolas (seven popular Spanish songs), composed in 1914. Lorca was represented by eight of the songs in his collection Canciones españolas antiguas (old Spanish songs), for which Lorca himself wrote the original piano accompaniment. The collection consists of twelve songs, and only six of the eight performed were listed in the program. The interest in “origins” reflected by both composers was captured in the title of the evening’s program, Viva España.Both of these collections were well represented by the Fisk-Romero transcriptions. The one Falla song that was omitted (“Seguidilla murciana”) was the most overtly pianistic. In the remaining selections Romero consistently took the vocal line, while Fisk accounted for the piano accompaniment (much of which was clearly inspired by Falla’s familiarity with Spanish guitar technique). The Lorca settings, on the other hand, were, for the most part, strophic. This allowed both Fisk and Romero to present their own takes on playing the “tune” of the song itself.Much of the rest of the program involved the reflections of other Spanish composers on source material similar to that harvested by Falla and Lorca. Isaac Albéniz was represented by two of his more familiar piano pieces, “Sevilla” from his first Suite española and “Torre Bermeja” (red tower) from his Opus 92 collection of twelve Piezas características. Both of these involved Albéniz translating familiar guitar tropes into piano passages; so, to a great extent, Fisk’s solo transcriptions were restoring Albéniz’ transformations back to their “natural order.” The same could probably be said of his solo arrangements of Manuel Ponce’s lyrical “Estrellita” and Ernesto Halffter’s “Habanera.” On the other hand Francisco Tarrega was represented by his arrangement of a virtuoso violin étude composed by Jean-Delphin Alard for ambitious students.For his own solo portion of the program, Romero played two pieces composed by his father, “Malagueña” and “Fantasia.” While there was relatively little spoken introduction of any of the music on the program, Romero became positively chatty in introducing his father’s music. The “method behind the madness” soon became apparent: Both of the pieces Romero played we[...]

Noontime Concerts to Host Chopin-Liszt Recital


Yesterday this site announced the next concert that MUSA would be giving in the Noontime Concerts series. Another offering worth considering will take place this coming Tuesday in this regular offering of events that calls itself “San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break.” The occasion will be the latest visit to the Bay Area by Hungarian pianist Péter Tóth. Tóth has been a frequent visitor and has given several recitals in the Old First Concerts series since 2007.

Hungarian pianist Péter Tóth (from the Noontime Concerts event page)

He has prepared a program that will be divided between Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. His Chopin selections will be the first (in C-sharp minor) of the two Opus 26 polonaises followed by the three Opus 15 nocturnes, in the keys of F major, F-sharp major, and G minor, respectively. The Liszt portion will begin with the B minor ballade and the second Hungarian rhapsody. They will be followed by the first (Swiss) “year” from the Années de pèlerinage (years of pilgrimage) collection.

This performance will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13. As always, these concerts will take place at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Chinatown. The cathedral is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs.

Ébène Offers a Haydn-Beethoven Coupling


Last night the Ébène Quartet, consisting of violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violist Adrien Boisseau, and cellist Raphaël Merlin, returned to Herbst Theatre, giving their third recital presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP). Their past appearances involved concerts in both the Jazz Series and the Chamber Series; and last night was the third of the four programs in the 2017–2018 Chamber Series. Boisseau only recently joined the ensemble, so last night’s appearance was also part of her first American tour.Probably through coincidence, last night’s program turned out to be a successor of sorts to the second concert in the series, the debut performance by the Danish String Quartet a little less than a month ago. That program concluded with the first (in F major) of the three Opus 59 quartets that the composer wrote in 1806 for the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky. Last night Ébène concluded their program with the second (in E minor) of those quartets.While these two quartets differ significantly in overall mood (shifting from major to minor), they both have slow movements that mark Beethoven’s move to express himself through longer and longer durational scales. He would continue to pursue these lengths through the remainder of his middle period, with a culmination in 1811 found in the Andante cantabile movement of his Opus 97 (“Archduke”) piano trio in B-flat major. That pursuit would continue even more ambitiously throughout his late period, where it can found in his symphonic writing, his solo piano music, and, of course, his final string quartets.The best performances of these experiments with prolonged duration are the ones in which the performers can convey a sense of time almost coming to a halt. I have listened to too many performances of the E minor quartet to try to rank order my preferences. However, listening to Ébène last night, I found myself, once again, drawn into the sheer wonder of the power of such extended duration. Time might not have come to a full stop, but it certainly came close. In addition, one could appreciate the extent to which this Molto adagio movement served as a major-key separator between the rhythmically frenetic opening Allegro and the following restless Allegretto, in which a sense of scherzo is present only through a vague family resemblance of the overall architecture. (The major mode then returns in the concluding Presto.) Winter is turning out to be a good time for Beethoven’s middle-period quartets, at least where SFP is involved.Ébène also used their program to allow reflection on the relationship between Beethoven and his teacher Joseph Haydn. They began the program with Haydn’s Hoboken III/76, the second (in D minor) of the six quartets published as Opus 76 and written for József Erdődy. This collection was completed in the summer of 1797 after Haydn returned from his second trip to London. (It was after the first trip that Haydn met the young Beethoven and advised him to come to Vienna to continue his music studies.)Ironically, 1798 was the year in which Beethoven finally worked up enough confidence to take on the string quartet genre. Beethoven’s relationship with Haydn was not the friendliest (to say the least); but I have long held that Haydn’s achievements placed bars that Beethoven then set about to clear at a distinctively greater height. The Opus 76 quartets are ambitious in their approach to the genre, and the D minor quartet may be the most ambitious in the set. The opening gesture of a theme based on descending fifths was bold for its time and probably piqued Beethoven’s attention. Simila[...]

March 27, 2018: A Pair of Innovative Programs


The last Tuesday of this month will offer up two of the more innovative approaches to concert programming of the current season. Those who seek out such departures from the normative will be pleased to learn that one will be held in the early afternoon and the other in the evening. In other words this will not be one of those days requiring “hard choices.” It will be possible to attend both events with little difficulty or strain on one’s schedule. Here are the specifics:12:30 p.m., Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral: MUSA, which is probably our youngest (and most adventurous) early music ensemble, will be returning to the Noontime Concerts series, which likes to call itself “San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break.” They will present a program entitled Chinese Baroque. Selections will include Western music written in and for Chinese courts and Chinese music transcribed by European visitors during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The most extensive of those transcriptions will be Joseph-Marie Amiot’s “Divertissement Chinois,” composed in 1779. There will also be a violin sonata by Teodorico Pedrini and a transcription of the “Jasmine Flower” song by Charles d’Ambleville. The program will offer a compare-and-contrast performance of sacred chant, complementing selections from the Mass setting celebrated by the Jesuits based in Beijing with the incantation of the Monk Pu’an. Old St. Mary’s is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs.7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The third recital in the 2017–2018 Piano Series presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP) will see the return of Lera Auerbach. As she has done in her past SFP appearances, Auerbach will assume the dual roles of both pianist and composer. Her program will also have a compare-and-contrast theme; but the content will be “something completely different.”The first half will be devoted entirely to a performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition suite, as he originally wrote it for solo piano. The second half of the program will also consist of a single composition, this time by Auerbach herself. She composed “Labyrinth” as a personal response to Mussorgsky’s suite. However, while the earlier composition was inspired by a collection of drawings and watercolors by Viktor Hartmann, the inspiration for “Labyrinth” comes from the writings of Jorge Luis Borges with particular attention to his Book of Imaginary Beings. (Many of my generation had our “first contact” with English translations of Borges through a collection published by New Directions in 1962 under the title Labyrinths.) Auerbach’s description of her work will probably resonate with those familiar with Borges’ writings:Labyrinth is an exploration of Time and its different prisms, mirrors, faces, games. The passages of the labyrinth are the passages of Time. Or, perhaps, Time itself takes of the form of a labyrinth in which the inner and outer sides are one and the same, infinitely expanding and infinitely contracting.The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Tickets prices are $70 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $55 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the[...]

Egarr Brings Corelli and his Impact to PBO


Last night at Herbst Theatre, Richard Egarr returned to conduct the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) in a program cleverly entitled Corelli The Godfather. The idea behind this title (besides making a pitch to lure new members into the PBO audience) was the exploration of the concerto grosso, whose first major proponent (if not first of all) was Arcangelo Corelli. Ironically, the full impact of Corelli’s approach to making music with a small number of soloists embedded in a larger ensemble may not have been felt in his lifetime. The concerto grosso “concept” probably owes much to the posthumous publication of twelve of his concerti grossi as his Opus 6.Those who follow the Baroque repertoire and/or its proponents, such as PBO, know that publishers had a disposition for issuing collections of compositions, usually as groups of six or twelve. Usually, the grouping entailed some form of structural commonality. In the case of this Opus 6 publication, that commonality can be found only in the deployment of two violins and one cello taking solo parts within a string ensemble. From a structural point of view, there is no single way of organizing a composition in movements that pervades the entire collection.Egarr established this point through the two concerti he selected for the collection, one for each side of the intermission. He began the program with the tenth concerto grosso in the key of C major. The informed eye examining the list of movements would quickly recognize this piece as a dance suite, one with an introductory prelude and an Adagio intervening between the allemande and the courante. On the other hand the selection for the second half of the program, the second concerto grosso in F major, consists of an extended sequence of very short movements, which demarcate a rapid-fire succession of mood shifts. (This is also the structure of the most familiar of the works in this collection, the eighth in G minor, which is best known as the “Christmas Concerto.”) There are also a few works with movements identified only by tempo but of longer duration.Taken as a whole, this collection thus tells us much about Corelli’s approach to making music; and one might say that the remainder of the program was devoted to two of those who listened to him. This lesser known of these two was Georg Muffat, who was born in 1653, the same year as Corelli (one of several indicators that the “godfather” epithet does not work that well). Muffat published a collection of five concerti grossi in 1682 under the title Armonico tributo, and Egarr conducted the last of these in the key of G major.Taken as a whole, this piece had its own interesting approach to a five-movement structure. The two outer movements were both dance forms, concluding with an extended passacaglia. The second and fourth movement were both Adagio tempo, and the middle movement was a fugue. This selection allowed one to appreciate not only the interplay of solo and ensemble work but also Muffat’s imaginative capacity for invention based on a few basic materials, most evident in that concluding passacaglia.The better known of Corelli’s attentive listeners was George Frideric Handel. Egarr introduced Handel’s Opus 6 collection of twelve concerto grossi by observing that its publication was intended as a tribute to Corelli’s Opus 6, which had appeared 25 years earlier. Egarr’s selections from this collection, the fourth in A minor and the first in G major, followed the more conventional patterns of movements in alternating tempos; but that did not make listening to Egarr’s vigorous approach [...]

Malcolm Martineau’s Fauré Songs: Volume 3


This past Friday Signum Classics released the third volume in pianist Malcolm Martineau’s latest complete songs project, devoted to the catalog of Gabriel Fauré. Once again Martineau has assembled an array of vocalists, affording the opportunity to select, for each song, not only the right vocal range but also a quality of voice that fits both the text of the song and Fauré’s specific approach to style. This new volume introduces three new vocalists to the project: Isobel Buchanan, William Dazeley, and Louise Kemény. The “returning” vocalists from the first two volumes are Lorna Anderson, John Chest, Sarah Connolly, Iestyn Davies, Janis Kelly, Ann Murray, and Thomas Oliemans.

Thanks to the annual Vocal Series organized every year by San Francisco Performances, I have had an opportunity to listen to recitals by several of these vocalists. One key result is that I have become more attuned to the way in which Martineau draws upon Davies’ countertenor voice for a select few of the songs he has recorded to date. My guess is that Fauré himself would never have heard a countertenor perform any of his songs. However, Martineau has worked his way through this project with a keen sensitivity to establishing the right fit between the song and the vocalist performing it. The result is a traversal of an extensive repertoire that is as sensitive to the rhetorical impact of each song as it is to fitting the technical demands of each selection to the right vocalist.

I have already written about my own (inadequate) hands-on experience in accompanying a baritone (who was a work colleague) in several Fauré selections. One result is that this new release has allowed me to revisit two of my personal favorites, “Clair de lune” (Opus 46, Number 2) and “Les roses d’Ispahan” (Opus 39, Number 4). To my (not unanticipated) surprise, Martineau did not assign either of these to a baritone. The first is sung by Murray and the second by Kelly. Given how attuned both of these sopranos were to the spirit of their respective texts, I cannot say that I have any argument with Martineau’s choices!

Baritone Villanueva to Return to LIEDER ALIVE!


Eugene Villanueva and Peter Grünberg, from Eventbrite

Later this month LIEDER ALIVE! will present the fourth concert in its seventh annual Liederabend Series. The recital will present the second appearance in this series by baritone Eugene Villanueva, the first American singer to win the Tosti song prize offered by Instituto Nazionale Tostiano in Ortona, Italy. His accompanying pianist will be Peter Grünberg.

Consistent with Villanueva’s distinction, the second half of his program will be devoted entirely to a selection of the delightfully light and expressive songs by Paolo Tosti. There will also be an Italian side to the first half with Hugo Wolf’s settings of poems by Paul Heyse that he collected in his two-volume Italienisches Liederbuch (Italian songbook). Villanueva will sing five songs from each of the volumes; and those two sets will be separated by a piano solo by Grünberg, in which he will play his own concert paraphrase of Wolf’s 1887 “Italian Serenade” in G major, originally written for string quartet and subsequently arranged for string orchestra. The Wolf portion of the program will be preceded by a similar treatment of music by Johannes Brahms. Villanueva will sing six of Brahms’ songs arranged in three groups of two. Between those groups Grünberg will play two of Brahms’ intermezzo pieces, first Opus 117, Number 2, in C-sharp minor and then Opus 116, Number 6 in E major.

This performance will begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 25. The venue will the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Single tickets will be $40 at the door with a $20 discounted rate for students, seniors, and working artists. If purchased in advance, the prices will be $75 for reserved seating and $35 for general admission. An Eventbrite Web page has been created for advance purchase. Those interested in advance purchase may also call LIEDER ALIVE! at 415-561-0100.

Brahms’ Unconventional Approach to Narrative


Last night the Taube Atrium Theater hosted the second concert in the 35th anniversary season of the Schwabacher Recital Series. The program was a significant departure to the usual recital format based on a selection of art songs and/or opera arias. Instead it was a staged presentation of Ludwig Tieck’s 1797 “Liebesgeschichte der schönen Magelone und des Grafen Peter von Provence” (love story of the beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence). Taking an anonymous fifteenth-century French romance as his source, Tieck fashioned a prose narrative in eighteen sections with a poem embedded in each of those sections. Johannes Brahms set fifteen of these poems as songs for voice and piano, and these were published as his Opus 33.As the program notes by accompanying pianist César Cañón observe, Opus 33 is not a song cycle in the tradition associated with composers such as Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. Brahms himself preferred to call the collection a “song bouquet;” and he rejected the idea of a publication that would interleave his songs with the appropriate selections from Tieck’s prose text. Nevertheless, Julius Stockhausen, to whom Opus 33 is dedicated, incorporated Tieck’s prose into his performance of Opus 33; and that tradition was both sustained and extended last night.Rather than just presenting Opus 33 as an alternation between talking and singing, Aria Umezawa (second-year Adler Fellow and 2016 Merola alumna) presented a semi-staged presentation, which introduced a narrator (Albert Rubio) and animated visual projections created by Cristina Garcia Martin. While all of the songs were originally sung by Stockhausen (and are still part of the baritone repertoire), Umezawa divided them between bass-baritone Christian Pursell and soprano Felicia Moore (both 2017 Merola alumni). Pursell thus assumed Peter’s character, complemented by Moore taking the role of Magelone (and, in a single song, the pagan Sulima, whom Peter encounters during his travels after he thinks he has lost Magelone).Christian Pursell in front of one of Cristina Garcia Martin’s projections (photograph by Matthew Washburn, courtesy of San Francisco Opera)On my Brilliant Classics recording of Opus 33, the full combination of songs and narration fills a single CD lasting about 80 minutes. That was pretty much consistent with last night’s performance. Unfortunately, while each of the songs is a musical gem unto itself, Tieck’s prose is long-winded at its best and tedious at its worst. Neither Umezawa nor Rubio could compensate for the author’s shortcomings; and Rubio’s inability to pronounce “Provence” properly was more than a little annoying. Martin’s videos did little to improve the situation, since, for the most part, they simply illustrated Tieck’s words at the same sluggish pace.Fortunately, the music did its best to rise above the shortcomings of its context. Merola may have trained both Pursell and Moore for opera, but neither of them showed the slightest difficulty in applying their technical skills to an art song setting. Indeed, both of them clearly knew how to use body language to capture those narrative elements reflected in each of Tieck’s poems. Nevertheless, it was hard to escape the feeling that the evening was longer than it should have been. (It was beginning to feel that way even before Sulima put in her appearance.) Perhaps Brahms’ conception of a “song bouquet” was the right one after all![...]

New Performers for SFS 2018–19 Season


As I did last year, I shall follow up yesterday’s article about those conductors who will be making their debuts on the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) next season with an account of performers that will be making SFS debut appearances. Here, again, there will be three such soloists; but once again my effort will be truncated by one-third, the same as it was last year. That is because the SFS debut of pianist Cédric Tiberghien will take place as part of the SFS debut of conductor François-Xavier Roth, whose program was described yesterday. The other two new soloists will be as follows:

Like conductor Christian Mӑcelaru, cellist Johannes Moser will be giving a world premiere performance, this time of a cello concerto, which, again, was funded in part by SFS. The concerto was composed by Andrew Norman, whose music was last heard in Davies in November of 2016, when it was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel. Norman’s concerto will serve as the “keystone” in an overture-concerto-symphony program, which will begin with Richard Strauss’ Opus 20 tone poem “Don Juan.” The symphony for the second half of the program will be Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 100 (fifth) symphony in B-flat major. This concert will take place next January, one week after Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla makes her SFS conducting debut.

In May of 2019, Vilde Frang will make her SFS debut in a performance of Edward Elgar’s Opus 61 violin concerto in B minor. The conductor for this concert will be Krzysztof Urbański, who will permute the overture-concerto-symphony format by beginning with the Elgar concerto. Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 90 (“Italian”) symphony will conclude the program. These two works will be separated by the first SFS performances of a composition by the late Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (who died on January 17, 1969) entitled, simply enough, “Overture.” Unless I am mistaken, this will be the first time that SFS has performed anything by Bacewicz. For that matter, I do not think I have written anything about her since 2015, the year in which Naxos released recordings of her complete string quartets; and I wrote about them for!

Concert Recordings of Backhaus on SWR>>classic


courtesy of Naxos of AmericaMy interest in historically significant concert recordings produced by Germany’s Southwest Broadcasting, Südwestrundfunk (SWR) has been sustained by the latest SWR>>classic release based on three concerts given by pianist Wilhelm Backhaus. The album is a three-CD collection with the first two discs devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven and the third to Johannes Brahms. This collection will be released this coming Friday; and, true to form, it is currently available for pre-order from was born on March 26, 1884 and died on July 5, 1969. It would therefore be the height of understatement to declare that he lived through a lot of history. He was born in Leipzig, subsequently became a citizen of Switzerland, and died in Austria. His touring took him to both North and South America, and he taught at the Curtis Institute of Music in 1926. Where discophiles are concerned, he was one of the first pianists to document his career through a legacy of recordings.Nevertheless, there is also a dark side to his biography. During the Thirties he was an active supporter of Adolf Hitler, praising the dictator’s love of German music. Richard Newman’s biography of the Viennese Jewish violinist Alma Rosé recounts an incident after a concert in London in 1938 at which Backhaus snubbed Rosé. Newman speculated that his behavior “may have been due to his awareness of German agents operating in London at the time.” Backhaus would eventually distance himself from both Hitler and the Nazi party.All of the SWR recordings on this album were made following the Second World War. There is a 1953 recital in the Ordensaal of the Ludwigsburg Castle consisting entirely of Beethoven piano sonatas, the third of the Opus 2 collection (in C major) and the Opus 53 (“Waldstein”), also in C major, in the first half, and the Opus 106 (“Hammerklavier”) in B-flat major in the second. There are also two concerto recordings made in the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, one by each of the two composers. The Beethoven concerto is the Opus 73 (“Emperor”) in E-flat major; and the Brahms concerto is the Opus 83 (second) in B-flat major. These recordings were made in 1962 and 1959, respectively. The ensemble for both performances is the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR). Joseph Keilberth is the Beethoven conductor; and Hans Müller-Kray (the ensemble’s Principal Conductor at that time) leads the Brahms. The Brahms concerto is followed by an encore performance of three of the waltzes from that composer’s Opus 39 collection.The author of Backhaus’ Wikipedia page cites his prioritizing “fidelity to the text.” One can respect this quality as long as one appreciates that Backhaus was not one to ignore the expressiveness underlying that text. Furthermore, however meticulous he may have been about his texts when in a recording studio, nit-pickers will have no trouble identifying occasional stumbles in technique. It would not surprise me to learn that Backhaus gave more priority to expressiveness during the immediacy of a concert performance, reserving greater attentiveness to the text itself for his studio work.As a result, there is much for the attentive listener to gain in experiencing Backhaus’ approach to both Beethoven and Brahms. Presumably, his childhood experience of listing to Brahms conduct the Opus 83 concerto with Eugen d’Albert as soloist made a deep impress[...]

SFCMA: March, 2018


This site first took notice of the San Francisco Civic Music Association (SFCMA) this past November with the announcement of its first orchestra concert of the 2017–2018 season. As was explained at that time, these performances usually involve some mix of both professional and amateur musicians. However, the emphasis is on community involvement; and, as a result, all concerts are free and available to the public. This month SFCMP will be presenting two concerts, one for string ensemble and the other for full orchestra. Specifics are as follows:Monday, March 12, Lakeside Presbyterian Church, 8 p.m.: The string ensemble, which calls itself Civic Strings, will present a program entitled Off the Beaten Path. As might be guessed, the program will focus on both composers and compositions that are seldom heard; and even the names of some of those composers are likely to be unfamiliar to many readers. That would probably be the case for Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, who was an intimate friend of Leopold Mozart and provided Mozart’s son (Wolfgang) with a generous collection of models for a variety of different compositional forms. The program will begin with a performance of the overture to one of Mysliveček’s 26 opere serie, Romolo ed Ersilia.Posthumous portrait of Josef Mysliveček (by Jan Vilímek based on a contemporary engraving, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)Another unfamiliar name from that period would be Pierre Van Maldere, whose productivity included about 45 symphonies. Civic Strings will play the third symphony (in B-flat major) from his Opus 4 collection of six. (Just to make music history interesting, several of Van Maldere’s compositions have been falsely attributed to others, include Joseph Haydn and the aforementioned Mysliveček.)A more familiar name from that same time would be Benda. To be fair, however, the Benda family provided as extensive a range of composers as did the Bach family.  The program will present the Grave movement, the second of two from Jan Benda’s only edited violin concerto, which took Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1042 violin concerto in E major as a point of departure. The soloist will be Tetiana Fokshei. Also excerpted will be the F major orchestral suite (overture) by Francesco Maria Veracini, although the specific movements have not yet been announced.The most familiar composer on the program will be Georg Philip Telemann. He will be represented by a concerto for two violas featuring soloists Dan Stanley and Diana Jeon. The conductor for this program will be Music Director Thomas Alexander.Sunday, March 18, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 3 p.m.: The Mozart to Mendelssohn concert series will continue with a program entitled Rosamunde & Rhenish. The first half will present excerpts from the D. 797 incidental music that Franz Schubert composed for Helmina von Chézy’s play Rosamunde, along with the D. 644 overture for Die Zauberharfe (the magic harp), which was repurposed to be used with the performance of Rosamunde. The second half will consist entirely of Robert Schumann’s Opus 97, his third symphony in E-flat major, known familiarly as the “Rhenish.” Music Director John Kendall Bailey will conduct.As mentioned above admission will be free for both of these concerts. Registration is appreciated but not required. Those who wish may register through separate Eventbrite event pages for March 12 and March 18. Seating is on a first-come[...]

New Conductors for SFS 2018–19 Season


Yesterday afternoon the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and its Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas announced plans for the 2018–19 season. My copy of the press release ran to eight pages, which was no surprise. Davies Symphony Hall is kept busy for close to twelve months of every season, and accounting for all of that activity is inevitably exhausting for both writers and readers. Last year I decided to focus on those items that I felt would be particularly special for the season. I ended up writing two articles, one about conductors making their debut on the SFS podium, followed by a similar article about the performers. My intention is to follow the same plan this year, beginning, again, with conductors.There are three of them; and the most interesting among them is probably Cristian Mӑcelaru. This is because he was recently appointed as the new Music Director and Conductor of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Contemporary music will play a major role in the program that he will bring to Davies this October, which will feature two premieres. There will be a world premiere offering of a symphonic suite prepared by Kevin Puts based on the score of his opera Silent Night. Support for the creation of that suite was funded in part by SFS. In addition, the program will begin with the SFS debut performances of Anna Clyne’s “Masquerade.”Puts’ suite will be complemented by another suite compiled by the composer of a successful opera. That composer was Richard Strauss and the opera was his Opus 59 Der Rosenkavalier, probably best known for the ample presence of waltz material. The other familiar music on the program will be Édouard Lalo. Ray Chen will be violin soloist in a performance of his Opus 21 “Symphonie espagnole.” Coincidentally, Chen will be making his SFS debut at the beginning of this coming May, when he will perform Johannes Brahms’ Opus 77 violin concerto in D major with returning visiting conductor Juraj Valčuha. (Readers may recall that Chen has already performed in Herbst Theatre, when he served as Guest Concertmaster and soloist in the New Century Chamber Orchestra in November of 2016.)In almost exactly one year from today, François-Xavier Roth, currently General Music Director of the City of Cologne, will make his debut conducting SFS. This concert will also see the SFS debut of the concerto soloist, pianist Cédric Tiberghien. Like Chen, Tiberghien is no stranger to San Francisco, having appeared twice with violinist Alina Ibragimova, most recently in a San Francisco Performances recital given in April of 2017. Performing with Roth, Tiberghien’s concerto selection will be Franz Liszt’s first piano concerto in E-flat major. The full program will follow the usual overture-concerto-symphony format, beginning with the overture that Robert Schumann composed for his Opus 111, a musical setting of Lord Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred. The symphony will be Johannes Brahms’ Opus 73 (second) in D major.The remaining conducting debut of the season will take place in January of 2019. The conductor will be Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, currently Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Her concerto soloist will be Gabriela Montero, who will play Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 23 (first) piano concerto in B-flat minor. The second half of the program will be devoted to [...]